25 Kitchen Bar sizzles in first year

25 Kitchen + Bar turned a year old recently, which is a feat in itself since the first year of a new business can be the toughest.

But better than making it through Year One is the fact that business at the downtown restaurant owned by Steve Brechting has exceeded his first-year expectations — despite being in a highly competitive field and opening during a less than stellar economy.

The restaurant’s name comes from the fact that it offers 25 wood-fired pizzas, 25 signature cocktails and 25 beers on tap. It also comes from its address, 25 Ottawa Ave. SW, which once was known as the Arena Station building — it’s across the street from the Van Andel Arena.

A year before 25 Kitchen + Bar opened, the location was in the news. The previous tenant, Margarita Grill, encountered some image difficulties caused by some unruly patrons, including one incident in proximity to the establishment that claimed a life.

City commissioners were ready to revoke Margarita Grill’s liquor license after learning that police had received 136 calls to the bar over roughly an 18-month period, but the owners volunteered to discontinue operations in August 2008. However, that notoriety didn’t deter Brechting from locating his business there, where he created a bar, a dining room, a lower-level lounge that can be reserved for parties, and perhaps downtown’s largest outdoor patio.

“We had a lot of conversations about the location. We felt that the brand was strong enough in what we were bringing to the table that we weren’t too concerned with the previous tenant,” said Brandon Miller, general manager.

What 25 Kitchen brings to the table is a casual, comfortable atmosphere that Miller said has drawn customers from all age groups, including families, for meals that not only feature specialty pizzas but also menu items such as Sicilian chicken and honey-barbequed salmon.

“It’s really hard for us to give the exact demographics of who really frequents us. It’s all over the place,” he said. “We like to pride ourselves in that we offer something for everyone, whether it’s lunch with the kids before a show or that late-night bargoer. There is a comfortable setting for everyone.”

Miller said business was good for the first year, with 25 Kitchen topping its sales projection for those dozen months. About the only hitch was that the opening came a few months later than planned. It originally wanted to make its debut in September 2009, but the first day didn’t come until Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, because construction took longer than expected.

“Overall, downtown business is competitive. It can be a challenge, and the first year is the toughest. As far as the economy is concerned, it has its times, especially going into the winter months when it can be a little tougher. But it hasn’t been too much of a concern,” said Miller.

Miller said events at the arena have helped bring customers in and have been a “huge benefit” to the business. But he also said it can be a “huge challenge” to draw customers when there aren’t any events at the arena, which is usually during summer months.

“Sometimes we will feel the effects of that. But when they’re rocking with shows, we’re rocking right next door,” he said.

During the warm months this summer when the arena was largely dark, Miller said the outdoor patio helped to create business. “It was our first summer so we really didn’t know what to expect there, either. It was actually really surprising to us that a majority of the people that were familiar to the location had no idea that there was a patio attached to it,” he said.

“The capacity is about 100. We have 2,100 square feet out there and 16 tables, plus standing room. We often did live bands out there. Once in a while, we did some DJs. It has worked well for us.”

Miller said this year’s ArtPrize competition, which was the restaurant’s first, was good for business. He added that 25 Kitchen plans to be a bigger venue for next year’s event by hosting more art pieces. He also said the inaugural Restaurant Week was “awesome” for business.

“We just had a meeting about Laugh Fest, which is coming in March. Steve talked at length about how important it was, as a restaurant and a bar, that we always have something going on to keep people interested in coming down. The city is kind of the same way, and they’re doing really smart things. ArtPrize brought people downtown to restaurants, and Restaurant Week gave people another option to come down and enjoy what the restaurants downtown have to offer,” he said.

As for 25 Kitchen’s second year, Miller said patrons shouldn’t expect too many changes. A few updates will be made to the Lower Level, which was called Below 25, by adding some new furniture to the lounge, which can be rented for private parties.

“Everything is pretty much going to stay where it’s at,” he said. “As far as the restaurant goes, people are happy with what we’ve got going on. Steve is also the executive chef and he talked a little bit about making some entree options, and, maybe after winter, changing up different parts of the menu but keeping the favorites.”

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